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Two Parades

This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches on Sunday, 6/5.

How many of us enjoy going to a parade? Did you go the Memorial Day parade? Doesn't being at a parade make us feel like children again?
Today's gospel describes a meeting of two parades—one of life (Jesus, and the crowd of followers) and a parade of death—(the dead man, his mother and the grieving crowd). Just what happens when these two parades meet?

The parade of life  was on the move from Capernaum to the small town of Nain. Before they made their way into the town, they could hear the commotion before seeing the parade of grievers. Middle Eastern people do not mourn as we do. Their mourning is loud and passionate and may well be healthier than the way we try to be strong and not let our emotions get the best of us.

One would think that in the parade of mourners, which is a funeral procession, the focus would be on the loved one who died. Of course, our Lord Jesus is never conventional and can be counted upon to do the unusual and unexpected. Rather than focusing on the man who died, Jesus' focus is primarily on his mother, a widow.

In Jesus' time, being a widow meant that the woman was now socially alone and without protection. Besides that, she has lost her sole means of support financially. Without a husband and now without any son to support her, she would become destitute. As crass as this may sound to our 21st century ears, people's children were their retirement. A son was a mother's lifelong protector and her ultimate social security. Jesus' restoration of this widow's son may have meant the difference between survival and destitution.

What has transpired reveals the reign of God in which Jesus, transforms mortal existence into new life. Jesus raises the widow's son from the dead. That is one miracle, but there's much more.

Jesus paid the most attention to the widow, who was now an outsider. Jesus had compassion for her and told her not to weep. The Greek word for cry means loud wailing or lamenting typical of first century Jewish mourning. The woman was beside herself.

When I was in seminary, one of the first things we learned in pastoral care is that you never tell someone who is crying, "Don't cry. Is Jesus being insensitive? Didn't he know how important it is to be a non-anxious presence when someone is mourning? Jesus could say "Don't cry" because he knew what was going to happen next.

After talking to the widow, Jesus touched the bier, which was a stretcher or wooden plank to transport the corpse to the place of burial. The act of touching it made Jesus ceremonially unclean. However, that did not diminish his compassion and that didn't stop him from healing the man.

The translation we are using says, "Jesus gave [the man] to his mother," but a better translation is that Jesus "gave back" the son. This underscores her restoration and return to a place of protection. The renewal of her future became a time of opportunity instead of misfortune.

How did the crowd respond to the miracle? Their first response was that of fear. I'm not sure about you, but my first reaction to this is that the gospel writers paint a much calmer picture than what may have actually occurred. I don't think when people see someone who is dead, sitting up and starting to talk, they simply stand there and say, "Oh wow." I think there could have been a bunch of people running for their lives. Perhaps in all the commotion, those who remained, were fearful and filled with wonder.

They glorified God and said that Jesus was a great prophet and that "God has looked favorably on his people" (v. 16). That sounds nice, doesn't it? A different way this could be translated is that God is "present" with his people, "with the implication of concern-of being able to help, to be on hand and to aid." Jesus' healing actions point to God's restoration of his people. The hope of resurrection is not grounded in the fact that the widow's son came back to life, but in the fact that the One who had compassion to bring back the woman's son has himself triumphed over death.

Other healing stories in this gospel attribute healing to the person's faith.There's nothing about faith in today's story. Maybe this story is all about grace--pure, unadulterated, unearned, un-asked-for grace. The healing does not happen because of a mother's faith or her son's worthiness. It happens because of Jesus' compassion.

When grace comes into our lives, it requires nothing of us but a choice--to receive it or not. As Christians, we are called to be God's presence and conduit of God's grace in our world. Sometimes that means that we will be with people of light and at other times, people will be in very dark, scary places and we are called to be God's light to them. It may be that we bring hope to the family of someone who died, help a sick person or are a non-anxious presence amidst the commotion,  and at other times, we are the light battling the forces of evil through the power of God's Holy Spirit. 

The question for us to ask ourselves when we are faced with the difficulties of life, is how are we going to react to those situations? Do we trust in God or do we try to go it alone? With Jesus, you never know when a funeral parade just might turn into a street celebration.

May God give us the wisdom and strength to choose wisely.

Amen.

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